Mentor Marsh is one of Ohio’s premier ecological gems. Located on the shores of Lake Erie, about 25 minutes from downtown Cleveland, this natural oasis teems with wildlife year-round…but that wasn’t always the case. Just a decade ago, the swamp was a near-ecological desert. What was once a heavily forested wetland was all but destroyed in the 1960s when tailings from a nearby mine dumped salt into the swamp basin. Over the years, native species have become extinct or have been smothered by an ever-growing, fixed stand of invasive phragmites, or sedges.
But ambitious restoration efforts led by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and a coalition of government and agency partners, including the city of Mentor, has led to an explosive recovery of native species. Today the phragmites are all but exterminated and a diverse flora and fauna has regained its status in the swamp.
Today, the restored landscape better supports migratory bird species on their way to their breeding grounds. In fact, up to 260 unique bird species have recently been documented in and around the marsh basin.
Local and regional birders have enjoyed the ever-growing visual bounty for the past decade, and now the news is beginning to reach enthusiasts from coast to coast, with visitors dropping in from far-off places like Oregon and Maine.
The peak of the spring migration is fast approaching and Mentor Marsh will soon be bustling with activity. We caught up with mentor Natural Resources Specialist and avid birder Joel Throckmorton, who gave us some tips on how visitors can get the most out of their experience.
Q: When is the peak of the spring migration here in Mentor?
A: In general, spring migration begins in early April and ends towards the end of May for most species. Peak migration for most Neotropical species arriving from Central/South America should occur around May 5thth until May 22ndndand then taper off.
Q: What styles can we expect?
A: Man, that’s tough. It depends on what your target birds are or what you’re hoping to see. For many bird watchers, the targets are the New World “warblers”, also known as the gems of the forest due to their stunning colours. There are just over 30 species that you can see in this part of the country. Many people also perform wandering “sea watches” from a vantage point on land. On spring days with warm temperatures (>50°) and strong southerly winds, birds migrate in large numbers and crowd across Lake Erie. On these days in mid/late April it is not uncommon to see hundreds of turkey vultures and hawks flying north.
Q: What rare species have been sighted?
A: The Mentor Marsh region has produced some great rarities in recent years. Bird watchers sometimes come from hundreds of miles for the rare find. A few years ago, bird watchers found a yellow rail — an incredibly mysterious marsh bird — on the Wake up Robin Boardwalk. That Mentor Lagoons Nature Reserve hosted the first Ohio record of a tropical kingbird, a bird living in Central America. Other rare birds that continue to be sighted in the swamp almost annually include the little blue heron, snowy egret and sandhill crane.
Q: What is the best timeframe/window to see specific species?
A: If you want to focus on seeing the greatest biodiversity, the best time to look at active radar is from mid-April to late May. Many people don’t realize that most passerine birds migrate at night. About an hour after sunset, you can watch huge bird movements sweep across the United States birdcast.info active radar loop. If you notice that in Ohio, head to your favorite hotspot the next morning around sunrise. Bird watching usually slows down around 11:00 am but can pick up again in the evening hours.
Q: What are good vantage points in and around Mentor?
A: The best spot to look out for migratory shorebirds has to be Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve, due to the extensive beach. The woods can also be filled with beautiful warblers and vireos. The northeast end of the Zimmerman Trail at Shipman Pond is also very productive. That Mentor Lagoons Nature Reserve is a great place to see both marsh birds and ducks, but also woodpeckers and warblers in the deciduous forest. The best place for a morning “lake observation” is the rising tower at Lake Erie Bluffs. Later in the day, this high vantage point can also give you a great view of migrating hawks. A bunch of others Hot spots are available in the immediate vicinity.
Those heading into town will be surprised by the number of nearby amenities, including shopping, dining, lodging and local attractions. Visitors are invited to make the most of their day by stopping by James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Holden Arboretum, and other local websites. For a complete list of restaurants, shops, games and places to stay in the City of Mentor, go to www.visitmentor.com. That Lake County Visitors Bureau is also a great resource for Lake County attractions and things to do.
The City of Mentor’s Department of Natural Resources is dedicated to the preservation, conservation, exploration and management of the city’s natural areas. They can be reached at (440) 974-5717. Learn more at www.mentornature.com or keep following them Facebook.